Irish look forward to final home game of regular season
Marek Mazurek | Wednesday, March 1, 2017
No. 5 North Carolina has clinched the ACC regular season title.
Everything else is up for grabs.
Specifically, No. 19 Notre Dame has just two more regular season games to claim a top-four seed in the ACC and a double bye in the conference tournament.
Currently, the Irish (22-7, 11-5 ACC) are tied for second place with No. 8 Louisville, and they and the Cardinals (23-6, 11-5) will meet Saturday in Louisville. But immediately ahead for the Irish is a Wednesday night matchup with Boston College.
“This league’s crazy, it’s going to be a crazy finish,” Irish junior guard Matt Farrell said. “We just take it one game at a time; we have Boston College on our mind and that’s it.”
Irish head coach Mike Brey said his squad is focusing on controlling its own destiny as the regular season winds down.
“Nothing with the NCAA tournament right now,” Brey said. “I think we’re more focused on positioning ourselves for the ACC tournament. I told them if we get to 11-5, we’re tied for second — we control our destiny to finish in the top four, which is something this nucleus has experience with. You got a real shot to get to Saturday night if you get the double bye. Getting the double bye, it’s really, really hard to do that. We control our destiny to do that, and that’s more of what we’re talking about.”
And while the Eagles (9-20, 2-14) look to be a winnable game for the Irish on paper — the Eagles are coming into the game with a 12-game losing streak — Boston College gave Notre Dame problems when the two teams last met on Feb. 14. The Irish trailed by as many as 13 points in the first half of that game and went into the locker room trailing by 10. Strong second half performances from junior forward Bonzie Colson and Farrell gave the Irish the win, and Farrell said the team needs to be sharper if it wants to avoid another close game.
“We came out a little lackadaisical there,” Farrell said. “We just want to play better against them. They’re a good team — every team in this league is good. They showed us that last game, and [we have to] be better defensively against them.”
The Irish shouldn’t lack for motivation, however, as Wednesday night’s contest will be the last game senior captains Steve Vasturia and V.J. Beachem play at Purcell Pavilion in a Notre Dame uniform.
Adding to the game’s meaning, that double bye becomes more of a reality if Notre Dame wins, and Mike Brey said his team will have no trouble with motivation.
“Our guys are really pretty mature,” Brey said. “I think we understand. [It’s] Steve and V.J.’s night, double bye territory — we understand what’s on the line.”
Brey also said he expects the crowd at Purcell Pavilion to be a factor in the last home game for his two senior starters.
“Big night. Our crowd has been great all year,” Brey said. “Our students have been fabulous. We need them one more time and I know they will deliver to send Steve and V.J. out the right way. Steve and V.J. are two of the greatest winners in the history of this basketball program. Given what they’ve been part of, total wins and especially what they’ve done in the NCAA tournament. It’ll be a special night for those guys, and it’ll be hard for me to watch them go out one last time.”
The Irish have relied heavily on Colson in the past three games for an offensive spark. The junior is averaging just over 17 points per contest during that stretch and picked up his 17th double-double of the season Sunday against Georgia Tech.
If Notre Dame gets off to a slow start Wednesday, Colson said it won’t panic and look to fix the situation.
“We understand every game is hard,” Colson said. “We just stay within what we do: change offensive plays, try to rebound and play uptempo.”
Notre Dame and Boston College tip off Wednesday night at 8 p.m. at Purcell Pavilion, and then the Irish travel to Louisville to face the Cardinals on Saturday.